Three award-winning teachers share Commencement Week spotlight

Dr. Janice E. Aber Dr. Vikram Kapila Dr. Joel Wein

As Polytechnic sent its graduating inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs into the world during its 153rd Commencement Week, it celebrated three teachers who have made lasting impact on the Class of 2008 and beyond.

Dr. Aber, Distinguished Teacher Award
Dr. Janice E. Aber, an instructor of chemical and biological sciences, received this year’s Distinguished Teacher Award, Poly’s premier teaching award which includes a $10,000 grant.

Dr. Aber’s reputation of instilling a passion for scientific scholarship by giving generously of her time, warmth, and sense of humor began in 1992 when she joined Poly. She recently began an I2E (invention, innovation and entrepreneurship) prototyping laboratory for undergraduate biomolecular science majors. She also maintains an enrichment and recruiting program with Brooklyn’s Murrow High School.

“Without sitting me down for a lesson, Dr. Aber taught me optics, chemistry, use of lab instruments and instrument repair,” said one of her former students. “She was there to welcome me into the ‘wonderful world of experimental science’ whenever an experiment flopped and then stressed the need for ‘patience, prudence.’ When I hit the ‘despair part of the hope-despair cycle’ in the quest for data, she would remind me that ‘there is no crying in chemistry.’

"And when one of us would get exciting, unexpected or difficult to interpret results she would say, ‘Let’s talk science.’ The exchanges that followed were immensely stimulating and I now miss them.”

Dr. Aber received her award at June 2's Commencement ceremony.

Dr. Kapila, Jacobs Excellence in Education Award
Dr. Vikram Kapila, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, received one of this year’s two Jacobs Excellence in Education Awards, which are given to teachers who have demonstrated education innovation and excellence.

The Jacobs Excellence in Education Award includes a $10,000 grant made possible by a gift from Dr. Joseph Jacobs, a Poly alumnus and the founder and chairman of Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., one of the world’s largest engineering and construction firms. The Jacobs awards were presented at Poly’s 2008 Commencement and Achievement Awards Ceremony & Reception on May 29.

Since joining Poly in 1996, Dr. Kapila has created several nationally recognized programs to promote interest among elementary, junior high and high school students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), critical areas of study for students preparing to compete in an increasingly global economy.

The grants Dr. Kapila has secured through his work have resulted in the training of dozens of teachers in NYC-area schools in using mechatronics, robotics and sensing technologies.

A Poly student who participated in Dr. Kapila’s Summer Mechatronics Institute for Teachers (SUMMIT) had this to say: “Not only did Dr. Kapila’s program introduce me to the concepts of mechatronics, the basics of microprocessors, and the fundamentals of programming [but] the applications I studied and projects I observed in the laboratory gave me a hands-on approach to robotics that I hadn’t yet experienced in academia. This all would not have been possible outside of Dr. Kapila’s labs.”

Dr. Wein, Jacobs Excellence in Education Award
Dr. Joel Wein, an associate professor of computer and information science, also received a 2008 Jacobs Excellence in Education Award.

Dr. Wein joined Poly in 1991 and has worked to develop curricula in the area of complex networked systems that both capture the intellectual depth of the field while providing real-world practical skills.  His efforts in this area have been supported by several grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF), SUN Microsystems and VMware. In addition, his students benefit from the private-sector experience he gained from working at Akamai Technologies from 1999 to 2003.

Dr. Wein is currently exploring digital gaming as a framework for teaching complex computer systems with an interdisciplinary team supported by the NSF.

A former student of Dr. Wein said, “Dr. Wein embodies the very notion of scholarship. He constantly demands improvement, not only from others, but also himself. I am honored to support his recognition with the Jacob Excellence in Education Award. Every day, I see Joel helping to improve the university and the world at large with his commitment to excellence, and I have been fortunate to have him as a mentor.”